I write in response to this article by Sarah Wallace published in today’s Toronto Star (Sunday July 12th https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/07/12/no-excuse-for-jk-rowlings-trans-phobia.html).
I understand that opinion pieces are not held to the same journalistic standards as pieces that report on the news but I would have thought there are SOME standards. Wallace makes an accusation against Rowling that is quite serious: transphobia. In other words, fear and hatred of trans people. It is simply irresponsible to allow a writer to make such a serious accusation without providing any evidence whatsoever that would support her conclusion. Since the impact of such an accusation is so serious, both for Rowling personally and for readers who might be misled into accepting an opinion not based in fact, I think the publication of this piece provides us with an example of exactly what Wallace protests: you have provided a “platform” heedless of your responsibility to your readers.
Here is some of what JK Rowling has to say about her view of trans people:
“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.So I want trans women to be safe.” (https://www.jkrowling.com/…/j-k-rowling-writes-about-her-r…/)
It is difficult to see how such concerns translate into “transphobia”. Or at least, not without an argument. Wallace also notes that Rowling is “privileged”, a fact that Rowling has acknowledged. But Rowling is also a woman – a female – and by definition, a member of an oppressed class subject to sexism and misogyny. Rowling’s description of how sexism has impacted her life is ignored when the author focuses only on Rowling’s privilege. Rowling is a survivor of “domestic abuse” and sexual assault, as she described in the essay I have referred to. Intimate partner violence and sexual assault are crimes committed primarily by men against women. Rowling also raised children as a single mother living on welfare, rising early in the morning while her children slept to do her writing. We should be celebrating the fact that she was able to perform acts of imagination that lifted her and her children out of destitution and struggle, not accusing her.
Rowling is speaking of her experiences as a woman – experiences which have and are all too often ignored when attempts are made to victimize women who speak out by subjecting them to further and public misogyny. Women die, have their lives destroyed and struggle to resurrect ourselves after experiences of male violence and these struggles will certainly persist as long as we are ignored. Efforts to further marginalize and silence us will not be successful only as long as women insist upon taking up public spaces and articulating our experiences and our views as Rowling did. We do so against the odds. The Toronto Star has now joined in the effort to shut our mouths.
It is ironic – and implicitly sexist – that the author focuses on the power of Rowling’s pen. That privilege has exposed her to smears, threats, harassment and mischaracterizations of her character, politics and the arguments she makes: “I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. I was transphobic, I was a cunt, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved cancelling, punching and death. You are Voldemort said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand.”
I have witnessed the terms of the outrage expressed against Rowling for her reasoned position on issues of trans rights and sexism. It is not a pretty sight. Most people would wilt against the barrage of lies and misogynist slurs. Thankfully Rowling’s pen does have a certain power. But it is clear that a woman’s power is always subject to efforts to curb her tongue and shut her up by calling her names and making baseless accusations against her while never being challenged by media to support accusations with evidence or deal with the complexity of her narrative and the arguments she is making. In this case it is Wallace’s pen that is more dangerous to the public and an understanding of the issues.
In my view the only solution is to publish a piece that responds to Wallace and includes some information and an opinion based on evidence and argument rather than accusations based on misrepresentation at worst and misperception at best.